The Magnificent Ambersons is a 1918 novel by Booth Tarkington which won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize for the novel. It was the second novel in his Growth trilogy, which included The Turmoil (1915) and The Midlander (1923, retitled National Avenue in 1927). In 1925 the novel was first adapted for film under the title Pampered Youth. In 1942 Orson Welles wrote and directed an acclaimed film adaptation of the book. Welles's original screenplay was the basis of a 2002 TV movie produced by the A&E Network.
The novel and trilogy trace the growth of the United States through the declining fortunes of three generations of the aristocratic Amberson family in an upper-scale Indianapolis neighborhood, between the end of the Civil War and the early part of the 20th century, a period of rapid industrialization and socio-economic change in America. The decline of the Ambersons is contrasted with the rising fortunes of industrial tycoons and other new-money families, who derived power not from family names but by "doing things." As George Amberson's friend (name unspecified) says, "don't you think being things is 'rahthuh bettuh' than doing things?"
The titular family is the most prosperous and powerful in town at the turn of the century. Young George Amberson Minafer, the patriarchâs grandson, is spoiled terribly by his mother Isabel. Growing up arrogant, sure of his own worth and position, and totally oblivious to the lives of others, George falls in love with Lucy Morgan, a young though sensible debutante. But there is a long history between Georgeâs mother and Lucyâs father, of which George is unaware. As the town grows into a city, industry thrives, the Ambersonsâ prestige and wealth wanes, and the Morgans, thanks to Lucyâs prescient father, grow prosperous. When George sabotages his widowed mother's growing affections for Lucy's father, life as he knows it comes to an end.
"The Magnificent Ambersons is perhaps Tarkington's best novel," said Van Wyck Brooks. "[It is] a typical story of an American family and townâ"the great family that locally ruled the roost and vanished virtually in a day as the town spread and darkened into a city. This novel no doubt was a permanent page in the social history of the United States, so admirably conceived and written was the tale of the Ambersons, their house, their fate and the growth of the community in which they were submerged in the end."
The Magnificent Ambersons received the 1919 Pulitzer Prize.
On October 29, 1939, The Campbell Playhouse aired The Magnificent Ambersons produced by Orson Welles. Participating in the production were Walter Huston, Nan Sunderson, Elliott Sloane, Ray Collins, Bea Benaderet, MaryAnne Burns, Eric Burdess, Orson Wellles, and other theater/radio actors/actresses. Music by Bernard Herrmann.
The Magnificent Ambersons has been adapted for film three times:
- 1925: Pampered Youth
- 1942: The Magnificent Ambersons, written and directed by Orson Welles
- 2002: The Magnificent Ambersons, an A&E original film directed by Alfonso Arau
- The Magnificent Ambersons at Project Gutenberg
- The Magnificent Ambersons, 1918 first edition, scanned book via Internet Archive
- The Magnificent Ambersons, HTML with illustrations.
- Photos of the first edition of The Magnificent Ambersons